The way to Bhutan: travel by air and travel by land.
The Kingdom of Bhutan remained largely cut off from the rest of the world up until the early 1960’s. Entering the country was difficult as it was only accessible by foot from two main entry points, one in the North and another in the South. The Northern route was through Tibet, crossing high mountain passes that were inaccessible in the winters. The second entry route from the South is through the plains of Assam and West Bengal. The high, frozen passes in the North and the dense jungles in the South made it extremely difficult to enter the country.
However, carefully planned economic development has made the country much more accessible and there are now a network of roads entering and traversing the country, as well as one international and multiple domestic airports.
Today the main roads entering the country are through Phuentsholing in the south, linking Bhutan with the Indian plains of West Bengal, through the border towns of Gelephu, in the central region and Samdrup Jongkhar, in the east, that links with the Indian state of Assam.
All visitors to Bhutan require visa to enter the country. Visa clearance must be obtained before coming to Bhutan and travel must be booked through a Bhutanese tour operator or international partner. Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can receive a visa on entry and it is not necessary for them to book travel through a tour operator, however it is recommended. In the case of Indian nationals a passport or voters card are acceptable on entry.
Travel by Air
The national airline Drukair flies from Thailand, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Singapore to Bhutan’s Paro International Airport, located in the west of the country.
Paro is situated at a height of 2,225 m (7300 ft) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains as high as 4,876 m (16,000 ft). Currently, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines (private airline) are the only airlines operating flights into and around the country. The two airlines provide services from Bangkok in Thailand, Delhi, Kolkata, Bodh Gaya, Guwahati in India; Dacca in Bangladesh; Kathmandu in Nepal; and Singapore. There are a regular domestic service to Bumthang (central region) and flights available to Trashigang (eastern region) and Gelephu (southern region). A second international airport is currently under construction in Gelephu along the southern border to India.
Flying into Bhutan’s Paro International Aiport is typically an exciting experience as the descent into Paro valley brings you closer to the mountain tops than most other flights in the world. The flight between Paro, Kathmandu and Delhi is particularly rewarding as it offers spectacular views of 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world. In clear weather, as you soar higher up, you’ll be treated to amazing close-ups of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga at their best.
Travel by Land
Phuntsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar are all located along the southern border of India and are the only overland border entries open to international tourists.
The town of Phuntsholing is located approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport Bagdogra. After crossing Phuntsholing, you will begin a mountainous climb through hair-pin bends until you enter Thimphu, the capital city. The 171 km journey usually takes around 5 hours. Travel sickness tablets are recommended for young children and adults who may not be accustomed to the mountain roads.
Gelephu in South-Central Bhutan is another entry point to Bhutan. It is approximately 250 kms from Thimphu. The journey will take you through lush sub-tropical jungles and pristine alpine forests before finally bringing you to Thimphu. You will traverse across three districts with a travel time of approximately ten hours.
Samdrup Jongkhar is the only entry point in eastern Bhutan. The town borders the Indian district of Darranga, Assam and is approximately 150 kms from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. The journey from Guwahati is about three hours. Tourists entering Bhutan through Samdrup Jongkhar will have to travel through Trashigang, the largest district in the country, and from there east through Mongar, Bumthang, Trongsa and Wangdephodrang to reach the capital city, Thimphu. The distance is about 700 kms and you should plan for a three-day journey.
All visitors to Bhutan require a visa.
Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can obtain visa at the port of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 month validity (Indian nationals may also use their Voters Identity Card (VIC)).
All other tourists must obtain a visa clearance prior to travel to Bhutan. Visas are processed through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent.
You are required to send the photo-page of your passport to your tour operator who will then apply for your visa. The visa will be processed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) once the full payment (including a USD $40 visa fee) has been wire transferred and received in the TCB bank account. Once received, the visa clearance will be processed within 72 working hours.
At your point of entry you will be required to show your visa clearance letter, the visa will then be stamped into your passport.
There are many different types of accommodations available to visitors in Bhutan. There are hundreds of options available ranging from luxurious 5-star resorts to cozy little hotels and home-stays in traditional Bhutanese homes.
The types of accommodations can be divided into:
Additionally, visitors embarking on long treks will be provided with tents and whatever other camping equipment is deemed necessary. Regardless of where they stay, visitors can be assured of their comfort and traditional Bhutanese hospitality.
Bhutan has hundreds of hotels located all across the country. They range from small, simple and clean local hotels to luxurious resorts for affluent travelers seeking the ultimate getaway.
Hotels in Bhutan are rated according to a National 5 Star rating System. All Tour Operators are required to provide their guests with a minimum of 3 Star accommodations; so, you can be assured of your comfort. Most hotels provide their guests with Television, Room Service, Fitness Centers, Spas and Wi-fi. However, the exact services available will vary from hotel to hotel.
There are various Guesthouses located around Bhutan. They are graded on the same scale as hotels. The exact services available can vary among Guesthouses.
Visitors also have the option of spending a night in a traditional Bhutanese Farm House. Agriculture is still one of the major sources of livelihood amongst the Bhutanese people and a Farm-Stay will give you an excellent glimpse into the day-to-day life of a typical Bhutanese family.
You’ll be able to observe age old Bhutanese farming traditions as the family goes about its daily tasks and enjoy delicious home-cooked meals and the unparalleled hospitality of a Bhutanese host.
All officially sanctioned and listed Farm-stays are located in the gorgeous Bhutanese countryside amidst lush farmland far from the noise and crowds of population centers. In order to experience a traditional life, electricity and running water are not available at Farm-Stays. Hot water can be provided by the family but will be served in a wash basin/bowl.
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